It all started with the end of a degree.
I recently finished an undergraduate degree in Japanese. I was lucky enough to spend my year abroad in Japan working at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). I had a great year meeting some of the most fantastic people and having some incredible adventures with them. But I also realised that I didn’t want to spend my life looking at a computer screen. However, it seemed like that was the only thing that I was going to be qualified for. I also realised that one of the reasons that, out of a number of placement options in the year abroad programme, I chose to work at IGES was that it was near the sea and one could see both Mt. Fuji and the sea from the window of the office.
That started me thinking about my life choices.
I remembered how, some years back, the first time that I went to Japan I lived on the outskirts of Tokyo just over the border in Chiba prefecture. For about 6 weeks I didn’t see the sea. The morning commute on the packed “women only” carriage would take us over the many rivers but that wasn’t enough. I started to feel... odd... kinda empty and weird, sort of fuzzy headed. I didn’t know why. Then I went to visit Odaiba, a manmade island off the coast of Tokyo packed with shopping centres and, nowadays, even a giant robot. Going down to the artificial white sands of the beach and looking out to sea I felt whole again. That was the point that a little voice in the back of my head started to tell me that the sea was more important to me than I had ever given credit to.
That voice would only grow stronger over the coming years.
In fact, it took a trip to Norway with some friends after graduation for these thoughts and realisations to cristalise somewhat. Being exposed to the painfully beautiful scenery of the Fjords made me realise that water, and everything to do with it, was what made me truly happy. I was with a friend watching the sun set, the sky darken and the moon rise over the ocean from the roof of the Opera House in Oslo when it hit me. It was at the beginning of August so the sunset took about an hour and it was only dark for a couple of hours at most. We were looking out at the ocean and, it was like a flash of light, I suddenly realised.
So, what to do?
I started looking online and in fairly short order I found the Boat Building Academy (BBA) in Lyme Regis.
After finishing university I was so tired of Professors and teachers, who I had expected to want to share their wealth of knowledge and experience being very reluctant to do so. I did have a few really good teachers and Professors and it wasn't all terrible but mostly my department was quite awful. As an example, I arrived as a mature student and in my very first meeting one of the Japanese language teachers said something along the lines of "but you're so old, aren't you worried you won't be able to do this?" I was 26. Great start!
I should have known at that moment that it wasn't going to be all I had hoped for. It turned out to be a pretty bad academic experience on the whole, incredibly disappointing and hugely demoralising. I had gone there with such hope, enthusiasm and a thirst to learn but by the end I felt thoroughly disenchanted with the whole system and, to be honest, pretty much everything.
It was a hard time.
Luckily, I had a very supportive college behind me and I made quite a few exceptional friends who, along with some wonderful experiences, made the whole thing worthwhile. However, after that I realised that I needed to rethink what I wanted to do with my life and what had made me choose this path to begin with. I realised that university, academia and office work was what I had been sold at school as being pretty much the only option. Consequently, I had followed that path blindly and unswervingly ever since.
I don't regret my decision to go to university and I am very proud of my achievements there. After all, it is only through those hard times that I have come to this point. Consequently, I wouldn't change any of it. Neither will I look back on it and pretend I was having a great time, even though I was very good at making it seem that way to those around me. However, at the end of the course, after the dust had settled...
I realised that I had never really stopped to truly consider what kind of life I wanted to lead or how I really wanted to live my life. I had expected university to provide me with a direction to follow, instead it left me feeling disillusioned, full of doubts and lost.
That's when I found the BBA.
When I saw that the only entry requirement for the BBA was that the person themselves have the right attitude and motivation for the work, rather than specific and arbitrary qualifications on their CV, it felt like a breath of fresh air. All you have to do is go for an interview to find out what the course is about and for them to find out what you are all about.
I arrived for the interview the day after my graduation ceremony. The smell of the wood was intoxicating. The lovely instructor who took me around asked me ‘why the sudden change in direction?’ When I answered that ‘I didn’t want to wake up in 20 years time sat behind a desk living for the weekends when I could get away to the ocean and looking forward to retirement’ he looked at me and smiled, ‘it took me 16 years’ he said.
I can’t remember the exact number of years but it was about that long. He had had a successful career in IT, but had felt that he had gotten onto a path that he could easily continue down for the rest of his life but he wanted more and felt unsatisfied with the status quo. So, he came to the BBA to do the nine month course and moved his family to Lyme Regis. Now he is an instructor there. He lives by the sea and is happier and healthier than he has ever been before. In fact the BBA website is full of stories like this. Reading these stories and talking to my guide that day, suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was being so crazy!
Sometimes you only need to push a little bit on a door for a whole new world of opportunities to open up.
The door had opened for me that day.
I met up with my Mum afterwards and we sat on the pebbly beach in Lyme Regis Harbour and she asked me how it went. The sun was warm and the waves were lapping gently on the stones:
“This is what I want to do and they’ll let me do it”, I said.
“Great, let’s make this happen,” my wonderful Mum replied.
I happen to be very lucky. I have a loving family who have supported me to follow these dreams. I have been living at home for the past 6 months working as a receptionist, and freelance website builder, in order to raise funds for the nine month boat-building course. I have also been very fortunate to find temporary work in an office full of lovely people.
I truly hope and believe that this will be an exciting adventure and the start of a whole new chapter in my life. With that in mind I have decided to share this adventure with whomsoever wants to come along and live vicariously through my experiences. There will be a blog, videos, vlogs and as much sharing as I can manage.
So, that is where I will be from Leap Day 2016.
Whatever happens, you are very welcome to come along for the ride.
Who knows where this will take me but, wherever it may be, it will be fun finding out!